Hilltop commission approves rezoning for garden expansion project

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By Katelyn Sattler
Staff Writer

The Highland Youth Garden is looking to expand its operation.

Shelly Casto, executive director of Highland Youth Gardens, presented to the Greater Hilltop Area Commission her request for a variance of zoning the property at 106 S. Wheatland Ave. at the commission’s February meeting.

The property, which used to be the parsonage for Hilltop United Methodist Church, is currently zoned for single family use. Casto is asking it to be zoned for office/educational use, as well. She has an offer in to purchase the property, conditional on the rezoning, to be able to expand after school and summer programs for Hilltop youth.

Currently, the youth garden farms the land across the street from Highland Elementary School and Educational Academy for Boys and Girls since 2009 and sees several thousand educational visits from children each year.

“We grow 4,000 pounds of fresh produce to give away at garden markets twice a week, employ teenagers, and build backyard gardens for neighbors,” said Casto.

They need indoor space for the kids in conditions such as thunderstorms, excessive heat in the summer, or as a shelter during crime-related events.

Casto does not expect traffic to be an issue as the kids are dropped off at the garden and there are eight parking spaces at the garden for anyone who drives there and wants to stay. Casto said the group will install a bike rack at the house for kids coming for classes there, and will remove the fence at the rear of the property to have full view of the garden.

The facility will also be made accessible.

Geoffrey Phillips, president of Highland West Civic Association, said, “Although we’ve never voted on it as a civic association, as a resident of Highland West, I think it is a very welcome addition. Everyone I’ve talked to about it is very supportive.”

A neighbor, John Kriewall, attended the meeting to support the Highland Youth Garden using the property.

The Greater Hilltop Area Commission voted 13-0 to approve the variance. It now goes to Columbus City Council for final approval.

In a different presentation at the meeting, Felicia Lyons, who owns ReVest Realty, presented proposed changes to the property at 1945-1947 W. Broad St.

The building at the front of the property is the first building seen by vehicles entering the Hilltop neighborhood.

Early accounts indicate that the space served as The Dugout Confectionery (1903-1937), the Wyles Sandwich Shop (1940s), the Hilltop Wreath Shop Florist (1950s-early 60s) and as the Wackernaegles Drug Store (for the remaining 1960s).

Lyons is asking for a permit to add commercial zoning to the residential use for the property for the building closest to Broad Street that has historically been commercial, to be used as a cafe or eatery, with a stairwell and seating on the roof, which fit with the Envision Hilltop Community Plan.

There is an apartment building behind the commercial building and a detached residential building, which will be used as duplex housing and single family housing.

As there is no vehicle access off Broad Street, Lyons would like vehicles to access the parking lot in rear off the alley, with required spaces reduced from 19 to 8, and adding a retaining wall.

Although the main building has been vacant for some time and is in a state of disrepair, Lyons has been working with a structural engineer, who has approved the building as solid.
Lyons has also been working with Susan Keeny, preservation director of Columbus Landmarks, to establish the site as a historical property. Keeny, who attended the meeting remotely, said they “need any information about the history, or memories or crafts, anything like that, to help determine eligibility.”

“I’m excited about this. The Dugout Confectionery spot has been a figure of my life and I’ve imagined lots of times what it used to be like. I’ve been fascinated with this place forever,” said commissioner Jennie Keplar.

“This is going to be a huge turning point for that part and section of the community and I can’t thank you enough for doing this,” said commissioner James White.

Another resident in the Highland West area, Joe Argiro, attended the meeting to show support.

“It was very exciting to see the potential development on this property,” said Argiro.

The commission approved the application 13-0. It now goes to Columbus City Council for approval.

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